Saturday, April 4, 2009

Meanderings: Ghosts of Meals Past

I'm standing outside; the sun is shining; and I'm thinking. For some reason I'm reminiscing about the Brooklyn in which I grew up. Then somehow the train of thought leaves the station and winds up at The House on Mango Street, a book I thoroughly enjoyed. I've recommended it loads of times. It's easy to read, composed of near poetic almost stories. Surprisingly, no one has been as taken with it as I was. But you see, I know all about growing up Hispanic in an urban American environment in the dim mists of the past.

Take the rice sandwich. To the horror of the Nun in charge, young Esperanza takes a rice sandwich to school. Poor Esperanza wants desperately to be like the other children and take a sandwich for lunch. All she's got at home is rice, so that's what she puts between two slices of bread. What did she know about tuna, or cold cuts? A sandwich? Nah, she just wants to stop being the outsider.

I can relate. Somewhere along the line I realized that everyone else didn't eat rice every night or spaghetti with greasy brown sauce. So I announced to my mother that I wanted lasagna. I even had a recipe on the back of a matchbook. Nobody really makes matchbooks anymore, at least the kind with recipes in them, which is probably a good thing because I never got a good recipe from that source. Now the backs of boxes are another thing altogether, bearing a veritable treasure trove of great recipes with the exception of those that read "to the pasta add one jar of XYZ spaghetti sauce," which kinda defeats the purpose of adding a recipe to the box.

Anyway, we went through the ingredients. Canned tomatoes? No problem, we had tomato sauce. Mozzarella cheese? Well, we had American. Needless to say, the result was near unpalatable and soured us on Italian cooking for years. I guess it was just as well, because nothing was ever going to make me anything over than the little Spanish girl in 3 downstairs. I suspect that some may have substituted spic for the same, but it was not until I left the confines of the working class and moved to suburbia that I was ever called the latter to my face.


Ms Calabaza said...

I've picked up that book several times but never read it. Now, I will. I was very touched by The Namesake by Jumpha Lahiri. I could totally relate to the character of Gogol and his desire to fit in and have his family accepted. :~)

rsnlk said...

And I'm going to pick up The Namesake.